Saturday was quite possibly my favorite day in Barcelona.
Why? You may ask.
Because Saturday was La Rambla day. And everything went perfectly.
La Rambla is located at the heart of Barcelona. It’s this one long, wide street that extends from Plaça Catalunya to Barceloneta. Tons of restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and hostels branch out from it in every direction, and the largest market I’ve ever been in, La Boqueria, is right on La Rambla. This is a pretty touristy spot, but worth visiting. It’s probably my favorite part of Barcelona that weekend. For some reason or another, I was on the receiving end of some incredible Karma on Saturday.
Yes. Saving 25 cents was a big deal to me. That’s how tight my budget was.
I picked this awesome Drac postcard and went to pay, but he says, “You know what? Just take it, it’s free. I don’t want these postcards anyways.” I smiled hugely and thanked him and practically skipped with happiness out of the store. Katherine and I enjoyed window shopping for the next few minutes. There were so many stores filled with cute trinkets or jewelry.
We had wandered down another side street and I saw a man in dirty clothes sitting on the side of the street with a blanket in front of him, and the blanket was filled with these little dishes that he was making from empty soda cans. I was enthralled. He had a big plastic bag next to him filled with empty aluminum cans he had no doubt sifted through trash bins to collect, and he was making art and dishes with them. His fingers worked nimbly on his craft, and I sat there for a long time just watching. Each creation was 1 Euro. I almost didn’t buy any, and started walking away, but I couldn’t help but keep turning back to look at it again. The man caught my eye and smiled every time I turned around. Katherine encouraged me to return and buy one, so I went back and I bought two little dishes! I picked one that was made from a Coca-Cola (my favorite company) can, and then a smaller black one because I like the color combination of red and black. I keep dishes like those on my nightstand and I use them to put my jewelry in.
After my purchase, I stayed and continued watching for a while after that. After I had been watching for a few minutes, other people paused to watch as well, until at one point a small crowd had gathered around him, and other people were buying the dishes too. After the crowd had dispersed, he reached into his plastic bag and pulled out a black can, the same that my small black dish was made of. He made a really intricate dish, a deeper one that also had a lid (those were worth 2 Euro), and handed it to me. I looked at him slightly confused, and he said it was a gift for me! That was now twice today that someone had just given me something!! I couldn’t believe it! We exchanged names and introductions, and I learned his name was Gul, and he was from Mongolia!
He was such a happy guy. He had the biggest smile ever, and Katherine and I decided we wanted pictures with him, and when I stood next to him he pulled me into a big side-hug, pressing his cheek right on mine. That close, I could tell that he hadn’t had a shower in a while, but I didn’t really care because he was such a sweetheart. I gave him a hug after the picture, then it was Katherine’s turn for a picture and he gave her a big hug, too. Then he gave me his email address so I could send him the pictures so he could have something to remember us by as well.
As he was writing his email address in my little red notebook I had made a habit of carrying around with me, I started feeling incredibly sad. He had difficulty writing, like it was something foreign to him, and he made misspellings within his own email address (“spanihs” instead of “spanish” (he wrote it like that 3 times, so it was deliberate) — so I wasn’t sure if I should send it to him the way he wrote it, or the right way, or if I should just try both). Then I remembered when he had pulled me close for the picture, my first instinctive thought had been that my purse was too close to him for comfort. It wasn’t the fact that Gul was a poor street vendor that had prompted my to think about my purse’s proximity to him, it was just the fact that he was a stranger. I would have thought the same thing if a handsome man in a business suit had hugged me. During my entire time in Barcelona, I constantly had my hand on my purse to dissuade potential pickpockets. I was so tuned in to where my purse was at all times, I could not prevent the thought from crossing my mind. Nevertheless, I felt extremely guilty and silently berated myself for that thought, especially because it had occurred right after he had been so generous and had given me the little aluminum dish gift.
After saying goodbye to Gul and starting our walk back to La Rambla, I got really emotional and almost started crying as I was expressing to Katherine the unfairness of the situation; that Gul was so nice and didn’t deserve to be on the streets like that, how life was unfair, and how despite his poverty he still had the biggest smile and a friendly demeanor. She said something that made me feel better, but I still felt like a jerk for the purse thing. I’m just glad I didn’t grab my purse and move it away, or else he would have noticed and it surely would’ve hurt his feelings.
After walking a little further down the Rambla back in the direction of our hostel, we passed by this young man holding out a menu and trying to get people to go eat in the restaurant he worked for. This was the second time I had passed him that day, and when he asked if Katherine and I wanted to eat there I gave him the same response I had given the first time: a big smile and a quiet “No gracias, no gracias!” while shaking my head. This time though, he stopped me and asked, “Where are you from?” in English. I just turned around, looked at him kind of surprised and asked, “What?” Obviously, I know what he said. I was just momentarily confused by him assuming that I’d be an English-speaker (most Spaniards thought I was a fellow Spaniard up until the moment we engaged in a conversation and they heard my accent. Even then, they assumed I was Hispanic or Brazilian because my accent doesn’t sound like an English speaker’s). He repeated his question and I said, “The United States.” He smiled and said, “I could tell you are not from here.” Still surprised, I asked him, “Why?”
“Because you are really nice and happy.”
I had to laugh at that, and asked, “So the people here aren’t nice or happy?”
“No, not really.”
I laughed in surprise again, and he asked me how long I was going to be in Barcelona. I was leaving Monday morning, but I told him I was leaving that same night. He said, “Aw, people always leave the same night! So there’s no chance I can take you out on a date?” To which I replied with a big smile and a “No, I’m sorry!” He just smiled back and wished me a good trip. Out of curiosity, I asked him what his name was, and he said, “It’s a weird name, but Igor.” “Igor?” “Yes.” “ OK, Igor, I’m Biqui, it was nice to meet you.” and we said goodbye and Katherine and I continued on our way. Katherine and I giggled at the fact that his name was Igor, imagining Dr. Frankenstein’s hunched lab assistant, but I had to admit he was kinda cute!
After all that, I was officially having the best day ever. We had a great time exploring La Rambla at night. It stays just as busy as it is during the day. Also, there were these men lining the Rambla trying to sell toys, and they made the funniest chirping noises to catch your attention. I took a video while I walked past them to share with you! You can hear Katherine and me cracking up in the background.
Finally, Katherine and I went home, and we got ready to go out to a house party with a fellow American, some French girls, and Mikael (Katherine and I had given him the secret nickname “Moi Moi” because he taught us that’s how you say “bye” in Finland). So after we’re all ready to go, we take the metro back to La Rambla and go up into an apartment building for a birthday party. The apartment was being rented by these two American college students. They’re theater majors studying abroad in London, but they are a 2-man band (one on a guitar, the other on a djembe— yes, a djembe), and they make INCREDIBLE music! It was the djembe player’s birthday celebration, and we had lots of fun that night. Maybe a little too much fun! We all made our way back to our hostel after the party had ended, stumbling in at 7:30 AM.
Barcelona was just intent on making sure I never got a decent night’s sleep.